Great experiences or nightmares at KLIA terminals?

LAST For the month, the Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) website showed an overview of the passenger experience in the second half of January 2023, starting with the frequency and availability of Aerotrains at KL International Airport, where one train operated 17 hours a day.

The performance standard for baggage arrival was within 40 minutes, with service performance recorded at 73% for KLIA and 90% for klia2.

During this period there were 3,222 flight movements at KLIA and 2,990 at klia2.

There were 46 food and beverage stores operated at KLIA and 86 at klia2, 144 retail services operated at KLIA and 150 at klia2.

There were 17 complaints about dirty toilets at KLIA and klia2 which were resolved within 25 minutes, three complaints about faulty toilets at kila2 which were resolved within two hours and 50 minutes, five complaints about smelly toilets at KLIA and klia2 which resolved within 50 minutes and two complaints about wet toilets at KLIA resolved within five minutes.

In Malaysia, MAHB manages five international airports in Langkawi, Penang, Sepang, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

KLIA would be renamed to KLIA Terminal 1 and klia2 to KLIA Terminal 2, and rightly so as there are only terminals at the same airport.

Although MAHB aspires to be a holistic global airport company, it has received brickbats from many inbound passengers trying to find their way from the satellite terminal building to the main terminal building and vice versa from departing passengers.

This is due to modernization work on the Aerotrain, which will only be completed in March 2025, as only one train will be running until then.

Meanwhile, airport buses ply the tarmac to carry passengers 24 hours a day.

However, during rush hour the situation was often chaotic as many passengers were unaware that buses were available and waited for the train.

Instead of resorting to shouting to be heard in a crowd, passengers could be easily directed to buses if conspicuous signs were used.

Two trains were recently deployed, but on March 1 one broke down and the other, which was sent to the stranded passenger ferry, experienced technical problems.

With both trains in need of lengthy repairs, MAHB has had to announce that all Aerotrain operations have been suspended until further notice.

Unfortunately, the 114 passengers stranded by the plane mishap had to walk 400m midway to the satellite building in the drizzle, with 10 passengers missing their flights to Padang and Pudong. They were subsequently compensated with new airline tickets.

MAHB undoubtedly plays a crucial role in creating the first and last impression of our country for many millions of air travelers each year.

Aside from providing the necessary facilities and amenities, it must also leverage soft power to become a truly holistic enterprise.

It’s likely that most passengers don’t have a strong impression of either terminal, treating it as just another airport to pass through and hoping to spend as little time as possible, especially for arriving passengers.

Great experiences

Those familiar and fit with both terminals would walk with confidence from the moment they step off a plane, passing through many enticing shops and making their way to queue at the correct counter to clear immigration to go through.

After that, they make their way to the correct carousel to collect their checked luggage, bypass customs and hope they won’t be stopped to be searched before being picked up in a taxi by those offering pre-arranged transport get off or book an e-hailing service.


However, it could be a nightmare for those who are unfamiliar with KLIA and are not seasoned travelers or the elderly.

It’s a long way from the plane to the arrivals door, where passengers board other modes of transport, and it’s made worse when walkalators are out of order.

It can be an ordeal for those trying to navigate a maze of shops with signs and advertisements shouting at them.

Those who are confused will wonder if they are getting where they are supposed to be.

Reaching the concourse to find many passengers waiting for immigration control is another challenge, especially as the line chosen is painfully slow, all the more so to realize they were in the wrong queue.

After being stuck here for a while, attention might turn to checked baggage.

In many countries, including Malaysia, any passenger could accidentally or intentionally pick up someone else’s luggage and take it with them without being stopped.

On her recent visit to Malaysia, my Australian daughter’s family was the last to clear immigration and mercifully all her checked luggage was still spinning on the carousel when there were no other passengers around.

Use ushers

Instead of leaving passengers to fend for themselves, the MAHB should consider using ushers to help passengers inside the airport.

They must be on the lookout for passengers who need assistance or seek safety, and act individually to avoid talking to each other.

The best position is to position yourself at strategic points and show the Malaysian way of greeting as promoted by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac).

It’s perfect for greeting any number of people remotely without interrupting their work.

It begins with eye contact and a sincere smile, followed by placing your right palm on your heart and bowing respectfully while maintaining eye contact and saying Welcome or Welcome to Malaysia.

It is a universal language that is understood by all and will warm everyone’s heart.

Ushers could also be proactive by approaching passengers waiting at departure gates and asking if they had a great time in Malaysia.

This will encourage visitors to share what they liked about our country and crystallize their thoughts that might otherwise remain fuzzy.

When I was a tourist guide half a century ago, I always started my comments on departure transfer to Subang Airport with: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you enjoyed your stay in my country.”

This was always met with a clear yes from all passengers.

My tourists came mainly from the USA and Australia. I’ve often been told that they can see that I’m proud of my country, that I like showing it to them and that they feel very welcome in Malaysia.

It was a kind of soft power that gave good results as they tilted generously.

In Mesra Malaysia, a Motac training program, participants must share their best and worst experiences and identify what went wrong and what could be done better, so everyone can learn from real-life incidents and improve their customer service.

Well-trained airport attendants could also reach out to passengers and ask them to share their best experiences in Malaysia and record them on video when passengers are feeling comfortable, so that the world can get to know them and our service providers can raise their standards by a few notches.

The worst experiences must be noted, without agreeing or disagreeing with the complainants, with passengers being assured that their complaints would be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities.

This can prevent complainants from continuing to take their complaints to more people.

While Tourism Malaysia’s role is to promote tourism globally and locally, MAHB is responsible for managing 39 airports across Malaysia (with 5 international airports, 17 domestic and 17 STOLports) as well as one international airport in Turkiye.

140.7 million passengers were handled in 2019 and this number is set to be exceeded in the coming years.

Therefore, employing a team of ushers who could communicate well with international travelers would certainly add to our country’s promotional efforts and image.

YS Chan is Master Trainer for Mesra Malaysia and Travel & Tours Enhancement Course and ASEAN Tourism Master Trainer. He is also a transportation and training consultant and author. Comments: Great experiences or nightmares at KLIA terminals?

Russell Falcon

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